Chasing the Monsoon: A Year in the Rain

Steve in monsoon waters I was eleven years old when I saw a photo essay on the monsoon in India in Life Magazine by Brian Brake, the New Zealand-born Magnum photographer.
His work established his reputation as a master color photoessayist. Twenty years later, I proposed a story to National Geographic to photograph the monsoon. The next year I joined Magnum Photos.

People have often asked me what it was like spending almost a year photographing the monsoon. I spent several months following the monsoon which affects half the people on the planet.

Weather is often my best ally as I try to capture the perfect mood for my pictures, but photographing the monsoon was an experience that taught me a lot about patience and humility.

Photographing in heavy rain is difficult because you have to constantly wipe the rain drops from the camera lens. That takes about a third of the time. Monsoon rain is accompanied by winds that try to wrestle away the umbrella that is wedged between my head and shoulders.

I spent four days, in a flooded city in Gujarat, India, wading around the streets in waist-deep water that was filled with bloated animal carcasses and other waste material. The fetid water enveloped me leaving a greasy film over my clothes and body. Every night when I returned to my flooded hotel, empty except for a nightwatchman, I bathed my shriveled feet in disinfectant.

Once I was almost sucked down into one of the holes in the street in Bombay into which water was rushing. It took every bit of my strength to keep from losing my balance. After that close call, I shuffled along, inch by inch, yard by yard, until I had to abandon my cautious instincts.

I had to see the monsoon as a predictable yearly event, and not the disaster it seemed to my western eyes. The farmers experience the monsoon as an almost religious experience as they watch their fields come back to life after being parched for half the year.

When I was in Porbundar, the historic birthplace of Gandhi, I came upon a dog. There he was, locked out of the house, standing on a tiny piece of concrete as the flood waters rose. His expression betrayed his emotions. You can tell by the picture that he realizes his predicament and hope his owner opens the door soon.

Actually, a moment after I took the picture, the door opened and he ran inside.

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36 Responses to “Chasing the Monsoon: A Year in the Rain”

  1. any water damage to your cameras?

  2. l n nagaraj Says:

    It looks like the dog is listening to “His master’s voice” a very good picture; Mr Steve.

  3. Interesting Steve. Nice to read some more about what is behind your pictures. Having lived in China now for 10 years and ‘survived’ the Sichuan earthquake, I know that a picture is often much more than ‘just a picture’.

  4. Thankyou for more fantastic images Steve, I look foward to each post this one was exceptional.

  5. s.v.pathak Says:

    The photographer himself have exceptional view for his objects, which enhances his out of world photography……………….
    very very cute really….

  6. Eren Somcag Says:

    The picture of the dog, it tells a very good story with a happy ending. I always can see a story jump out of your photographs, it is like seeing Dostoevsky on work without the need for words.

  7. Love the contrast of perceptions. Thank you for being so brave and persistent, Steve. I cannot imagine taking on such a commitment. You deserve every accolade you have been given.

  8. Dear Steve

    Nice to know the story behind the Dog …Love the monsoon series ..

    Regards

    Vidhyaa

  9. Beautiful work. I would be constantly worrying about my equipment. Life in a monsoon is something I haven’t thought about. Now I will. Thanks!

  10. Both wonderful shots! And thank you for the dog story with its happy ending.

  11. Your post makes me appreciate you and your photo’s even more.
    I hate photographing in the rain (living in the Netherlands, there is some experience :) )
    but you did it a bloody WET year long!
    Seen a few shots of your book and definitely will buy it.
    I’ll remember you on my next wet shoot!
    kind regards, Corina

  12. You make some of the world’s most unbelievably fantastic photographs. Thank you.

  13. To know the subject, the photo of rain is a difficult exercise ! Your fantastic photos prove your mastery of the subject !

  14. [...] read this entry from the blog where he talks about how he chased the monsoons in India, with some photographs of [...]

  15. Liliane (Green Tea) Says:

    Dear Steve,
    I find in you a real inspiration. You give me the taste to travel, not being afraid of new places and cultures, and to explore through my camera.
    Thank you!
    Liliane Lapointe (17 years old)

  16. Dear Sir Steve,

    Couple of days back I bought your book ‘Monsoon’ and I find all your pictures wonderfull, I like the Rajastani village photos of the ladies gathering outside prior to the start of the monsoon.

    As a passionate photographer, the lesson I have learned from this book of yours, is that you can place the subject at centre and still make it appealing and interesting and that the emotion and expresssion is what counts. Unlike, always going in for perfect rule of third shots.

    Regards,
    Adam Backer

  17. Thank you for the insight …it is always easy to see life from one side. Steve, your images speak volumes and your words are educational.

  18. [...] The answer, if you’re wondering, is very wet indeed. It wasn’t quite as dramatic as a McCurry “up to your armpits in monsoon rain” day but it was pretty wet nonetheless. I employed two of my trusty Buffs to cover my cameras and [...]

  19. Wow – what a story! I think sometimes looking at your lovely photos, one (sitting over here in the West in his living room) doesn’t really consider what the photographer had to go through (or survive) to get the picture. Knowing the story enables one to appreciate them all the more.

  20. hahaha.. that last sentance gave me so much relief! Of course whenever I watch movies I am always thinking ‘what about the dog!?!?’ maybe I got that a bit from Wizard of Oz?
    so, lots of dead animals in the monsoon? Okay I know very little about monsoons. Do they last long in one place? how do people get their food? or can they predict it and stock up?

  21. It’s certainly eye opening to read about your experiences following the monsoon, Steve.

    Two wonderful shots, above, representing different aspects of the monsoon. So well seen, and beautifully presented–as always. Interesting how thes images have quite similar perspective lines. (Glad to know the dog got in safe!)

  22. Love this monsoon series.

  23. I have loved Your pictures for many years now and You still catch my mind with them!! But it is such a joy to read some of Your text too. In that way we can get a little bit of background material for Your fotos.
    //GO

  24. I saw your pictures in the Outlook magazine too! We look for quite sometime at the last one is this post.

  25. my favorite piture from series about monsoon is with this young girl in green “soup” from bojonegoro 83′ but not this version on your webside (monsoon 6/15) only the verical one (there is more than one vertical pictures isn’t it?).
    anyway beatiful series of photos, one of the very best about rain. masterpiece.

    best

    • Steve McCurry Says:

      Marcin,

      Many thanks for your post about the girl in the green monsoon waters. I did shoot several frames of that same girl, some vertical and some horizontal.

      Best,
      Steve

  26. I love the stories that accompany your amazing photos. Thank you for sharing!

    Diego

  27. “Steve McCurry sucked into a hole in Bombay” is not a headline that I’d wish to read!

  28. christine Says:

    learn so much reading your stories, that’s why your such a great photographer. Thanks for sharing this.

  29. The picture of the dog is lovely, in most cases in Gujarat dogs are not taken in, but in Porbandar, a harbour people own dogs, something you find along the whole coastline. I was wondering if the picture of kid in the shipwreckingyard on your site was taken (along that same coastline) in Alang. It looks like it, but Alang has somewhat changed over the years now.

    Thanks for the great pictures!

    • Steve McCurry Says:

      Simon,

      Many thanks for your email. The image of the shipwrecking yard was actually taken in Bombay in 1996. I photographed another shipwrecking yard which is in my new book The Unguarded Moment which is near Karachi.

      Best Regards,
      Steve

  30. Sharanya Says:

    I love the stories that accompany your photos. This one here might just become my all-time favourite.

  31. Namit K Says:

    Hi Steve,

    It was nice to see your new blog. I will really appreciate if you could discuss the technical details of the photographs too.. :)

    Lots of Love
    \NK

  32. This image of the dog is one of my all-time favourites of yours Steve. I constantly turn to this page in my copy of South by South-East and just soak it in. Such a great moment.

  33. The picture of the dog is amazing.

    It’s just really too bad it’s so small, is there a place where I could see a better quality version of it?

    … I’m glad that someone opened the door!

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